Posts Tagged ‘post-acquisition’

Post-acquisition constructive trust: evidential burden where there is reliance on an express statement. Detriment: where the plaintiff’s benefit outweigh any detriment

June 10, 2015

In Kwan So Ling v Woo Kee Yiu Harry ([2015] HKEC 694, CFI) the plaintiff (a widow) claimed that her parents-in-law had promised to give her and her husband two flats that they owned in Hong Kong. The plaintiff followed her husband to Hong Kong from the mainland. The parents-in-law transferred the title to one of the flats to the plaintiff and her husband. The plaintiff and her husband were allowed to make full use of the other flat (‘the second flat’) for several decades. Sometimes they lived in the second flat and sometimes they rented it out. The plaintiff’s husband and father-in-law died. The mother-in-law, shortly before her own death, transferred the title to the second flat to one of the plaintiff’s nephews. The nephew claimed that the plaintiff was a mere licensee of the second flat and he revoked this licence. The plaintiff claimed that she was the sole beneficial owner of the flat under the terms of a common intention constructive trust. Alternatively, she sought relief on the basis of proprietary estoppel.

The plaintiff’s claims failed for the simple reason that Godfrey Lam J found that there was no common intention / assurance. Nevertheless, he commented on the assertion that a more compelling standard of proof was needed since this would be a post-acquisition constructive trust. He suggested that this idea had no application where the trust was based on an express promise ([24]).

Godfrey Lam J also considered whether there was detriment. The plaintiff and her husband spent several hundred dollars to create internal partitions within the second flat in the 1970s. While this could potentially be detriment, it was not in this case since the income and other benefits that the plaintiff and her husband derived from the second flat far outweighed the expenditure ([53]). The same consideration was also relevant at the level of calculating any relief (53)).

The fact that the plaintiff made significant changes to her life by moving to Hong Kong was potential detriment. There was no causal linkage between this and any possible assurance by the parents-in-law. She moved to Hong Kong because of her love for her husband (54)).

Michael Lower

Common intention constructive trust and equity’s darling

May 13, 2014

In Mo Ying v Brillex Development Ltd ([2014] HKEC 724, CFI) (partly reversed by the Court of Appeal) title to the flat that was the matrimonial home was in H’s name alone. H entered into an agreement to sell the flat to B and took a lease back. The lease arrangement continued after completion. When H failed to meet the rental payments, B brought proceedings to recover possession. W then claimed that she had a beneficial interest under a common intention constructive trust and that B had imputed or constructive notice of this interest and so took subject to it.

W argued that there was an express common intention in that, after acquisition, H had given an excuse for not putting her name on the title deeds. W invited the court to follow the example given by Grant v Edwards and Eves v Eves but the court refused to do so. The ‘excuse’ was equivocal and, anyway, did not induce W to believe that she had or would have any interest in the property ([59]). Further, this was an alleged post-acquisition agreement and the courts are reluctant to infer a common intention constructive trust in such a case ([60]). There was no express common intention.

W argued that a common intention constructive trust could be inferred from the fact of the marriage. Marriage, alone, however, is not a basis from which to infer a common intention constructive trust ([66] – [68]). W’s sister had made a loan to H. It could not be shown that this was used towards the purchase price of the property. In any event, it was not clear that this could be regarded as a contribution by W ([69] – [70]). While the pooling of family assets could be evidence of a common intention ([71]), there was no evidence of such pooling. In any event, it seems that the court was of the view that there was simply no such common intention ([80]); so even if there had been evidence of pooling, it would only be a factor to be taken into account in determining on the balance of probabilities whether or not there was a common intention. The court was not prepared to infer a common intention from W’s contributions to household expenses (‘the everyday expense of the family’ ([81])) ([81] – [85]).

There was no detrimental reliance; neither her contributions to household expenses nor her decision to give up her job could be so regarded in this case. The necessary causal link was missing ([92]).

Deputy Judge Eugene Fung SC went on to consider whether if, contrary to her view, W had a beneficial interest, B was subject to it. W argued that the estate agent handling the transaction knew of the interest and that this knowledge should be imputed to B. The factual basis of this proposition was doubted. In any event:

‘In cases where an agent’s function is to receive communications on behalf of his principal, one can readily understand why the knowledge of the agent would be imputed to the principal. However, I have some doubt as to whether such a principle applies to an estate agent in Hong Kong. In a typical case, an estate agent’s function is to perform a service by introducing a counter-party to his principal so as to enable his principal to conclude a particular transaction with that counter-party; his function is not to receive communications on behalf of his principal. No cases have been cited to suggest that an estate agent in Hong Kong has the general authority to receive communications for his principal. Accordingly, I am unable to accept Mr Wong’s submission that notice of an estate agent in Hong Kong is imputed to his principal.’ ([117]).

B had, however, failed to inspect the property and so, by virtue of W’s occupation, had constructive notice of any interest that W might have. The fact that this was a sale and leaseback made no difference to this ([131] – [132]).

B’s attempt to avoid this conclusion by invoking estoppel by representation failed since W did not owe B a duty to speak out and inform B of her interest ([148]). The facts did not support B’s defence of waiver ([154]) nor acquiescence ([155] – [157]).

Nor could B rely on laches. Section 20(2) of the Limitation Ordinance provided the limitation period for an action to recover trust property from a third party and this had not expired. In any event, there had been no substantial lapse of time and it was not inequitable for W to enforce her claim against B ([165]).

Michael Lower